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Hiroshima & Nagasaki: War Crimes?


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#1 John Simkin

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Posted 13 April 2006 - 11:00 AM

Just before the First World War two German scientists, James Franck and Gustav Hertz carried out experiments where they bombarded mercury atoms with electrons and traced the energy changes that resulted from the collisions. Their experiments helped to substantiate they theory put forward by Nils Bohr that an atom can absorb internal energy only in precise and definite amounts.

In 1921 two Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner, discovered nuclear isomers. Over the next few years they devoted their time to researching the application of radioactive methods to chemical problems.

In the 1930s they became interested in the research being carried out by Enrico Fermi and Emilio Segre at the University of Rome. This included experiments where elements such as uranium were bombarded with neutrons. By 1935 the two men had discovered slow neutrons, which have properties important to the operation of nuclear reactors.

Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner were now joined by Fritz Strassmann and discovered that uranium nuclei split when bombarded with neutrons. In 1938 Meitner, like other Jews in Nazi Germany, was dismissed from her university post. She moved to Sweden and later that year she wrote a paper on nuclear fission with her nephew, Otto Frisch, where they argued that by splitting the atom it was possible to use a few pounds of uranium to create the explosive and destructive power of many thousands of pounds of dynamite.

In January, 1939 a Physics Conference took place in Washington in the United States. A great deal of discussion concerned the possibility of producing an atomic bomb. Some scientists argued that the technical problems involved in producing such a bomb were too difficult to overcome, but the one thing they were agreed upon was that if such a weapon was developed, it would give the country that possessed it the power to blackmail the rest of the world. Several scientists at the conference took the view that it was vitally important that all information on atomic power should be readily available to all nations to stop this happening.

On 2nd August, 1939, three Jewish scientists who had fled to the United States from Europe, Albert Einstein, Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner, wrote a joint letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, about the developments that had been taking place in nuclear physics. They warned Roosevelt that scientists in Germany were working on the possibility of using uranium to produce nuclear weapons.

Roosevelt responded by setting up a scientific advisory committee to investigate the matter. He also had talks with the British government about ways of sabotaging the German efforts to produce nuclear weapons.

In May, 1940, Germany invaded Denmark, the home of Niels Bohr, the world's leading expert on atomic research. It was feared that he would be forced to work for Nazi Germany. With the help of the British Secret Service he escaped to Sweden before being moving to the United States.

In 1942 the Manhattan Engineer Project was set up in the United States under the command of Brigadier General Leslie Groves. Scientists recruited to produce an atom bomb included Robert Oppenheimer (USA), David Bohm (USA), Leo Szilard (Hungary), Eugene Wigner (Hungary), Rudolf Peierls (Germany), Otto Frisch (Germany), Felix Bloch (Switzerland), Niels Bohr (Denmark), James Franck (Germany), James Chadwick (Britain), Emilio Segre (Italy), Enrico Fermi (Italy), Klaus Fuchs (Germany) and Edward Teller (Hungary).

Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt were deeply concerned about the possibility that Germany would produce the atom bomb before the allies. At a conference held in Quebec in August, 1943, it was decided to try and disrupt the German nuclear programme.

In February 1943, SOE saboteurs successfully planted a bomb in the Rjukan nitrates factory in Norway. As soon as it was rebuilt it was destroyed by 150 US bombers in November, 1943. Two months later the Norwegian resistance managed to sink a German boat carrying vital supplies for its nuclear programme.

Meanwhile the scientists working on the Manhattan Project were developing atom bombs using uranium and plutonium. The first three completed bombs were successfully tested at Alamogordo, New Mexico on 16th July, 1945.

By the time the atom bomb was ready to be used Germany had surrendered. Leo Szilard and James Franck circulated a petition among the scientists opposing the use of the bomb on moral grounds. However, the advice was ignored by Harry S. Truman, the USA's new president, and he decided to use the bomb on Japan.

On 6th August 1945, a B29 bomber dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima. It has been estimated that over the years around 200,000 people have died as a result of this bomb being dropped. Japan did not surrender immediately and a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later. On 10th August the Japanese surrendered. The Second World War was over.

#2 Myra Bronstein

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Posted 30 November 2006 - 04:08 AM

Just before the First World War two German scientists, James Franck and Gustav Hertz carried out experiments where they bombarded mercury atoms with electrons and traced the energy changes that resulted from the collisions. Their experiments helped to substantiate they theory put forward by Nils Bohr that an atom can absorb internal energy only in precise and definite amounts.

In 1921 two Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner, discovered nuclear isomers. Over the next few years they devoted their time to researching the application of radioactive methods to chemical problems.

In the 1930s they became interested in the research being carried out by Enrico Fermi and Emilio Segre at the University of Rome. This included experiments where elements such as uranium were bombarded with neutrons. By 1935 the two men had discovered slow neutrons, which have properties important to the operation of nuclear reactors.

Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner were now joined by Fritz Strassmann and discovered that uranium nuclei split when bombarded with neutrons. In 1938 Meitner, like other Jews in Nazi Germany, was dismissed from her university post. She moved to Sweden and later that year she wrote a paper on nuclear fission with her nephew, Otto Frisch, where they argued that by splitting the atom it was possible to use a few pounds of uranium to create the explosive and destructive power of many thousands of pounds of dynamite.

In January, 1939 a Physics Conference took place in Washington in the United States. A great deal of discussion concerned the possibility of producing an atomic bomb. Some scientists argued that the technical problems involved in producing such a bomb were too difficult to overcome, but the one thing they were agreed upon was that if such a weapon was developed, it would give the country that possessed it the power to blackmail the rest of the world. Several scientists at the conference took the view that it was vitally important that all information on atomic power should be readily available to all nations to stop this happening.

On 2nd August, 1939, three Jewish scientists who had fled to the United States from Europe, Albert Einstein, Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner, wrote a joint letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, about the developments that had been taking place in nuclear physics. They warned Roosevelt that scientists in Germany were working on the possibility of using uranium to produce nuclear weapons.

Roosevelt responded by setting up a scientific advisory committee to investigate the matter. He also had talks with the British government about ways of sabotaging the German efforts to produce nuclear weapons.

In May, 1940, Germany invaded Denmark, the home of Niels Bohr, the world's leading expert on atomic research. It was feared that he would be forced to work for Nazi Germany. With the help of the British Secret Service he escaped to Sweden before being moving to the United States.

In 1942 the Manhattan Engineer Project was set up in the United States under the command of Brigadier General Leslie Groves. Scientists recruited to produce an atom bomb included Robert Oppenheimer (USA), David Bohm (USA), Leo Szilard (Hungary), Eugene Wigner (Hungary), Rudolf Peierls (Germany), Otto Frisch (Germany), Felix Bloch (Switzerland), Niels Bohr (Denmark), James Franck (Germany), James Chadwick (Britain), Emilio Segre (Italy), Enrico Fermi (Italy), Klaus Fuchs (Germany) and Edward Teller (Hungary).

Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt were deeply concerned about the possibility that Germany would produce the atom bomb before the allies. At a conference held in Quebec in August, 1943, it was decided to try and disrupt the German nuclear programme.

In February 1943, SOE saboteurs successfully planted a bomb in the Rjukan nitrates factory in Norway. As soon as it was rebuilt it was destroyed by 150 US bombers in November, 1943. Two months later the Norwegian resistance managed to sink a German boat carrying vital supplies for its nuclear programme.

Meanwhile the scientists working on the Manhattan Project were developing atom bombs using uranium and plutonium. The first three completed bombs were successfully tested at Alamogordo, New Mexico on 16th July, 1945.

By the time the atom bomb was ready to be used Germany had surrendered. Leo Szilard and James Franck circulated a petition among the scientists opposing the use of the bomb on moral grounds. However, the advice was ignored by Harry S. Truman, the USA's new president, and he decided to use the bomb on Japan.

On 6th August 1945, a B29 bomber dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima. It has been estimated that over the years around 200,000 people have died as a result of this bomb being dropped. Japan did not surrender immediately and a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later. On 10th August the Japanese surrendered. The Second World War was over.


Yes, war crimes. The negotiations were orchestrated so that the Japanese could not surrender because they hadn't received assurance that their Emperor--their god--would be free from retribution. The war could have ended with Truman's assurance to the Japanese that their Emperor's could remain. It clearly wasn't a sticking point since that concession was made after the bombs were dropped anyway.

As the Japanese were twisting in the wind over the fabricated "unconditional surrender" issue, Truman dropped the first bomb on Hiroshima. He could have dropped it on an island or someplace where hundreds of thousands of civilians wouldn't be killed, as scientists urged him to do, but he refused. In addition, he lied to Americans in his radio announcement of the drop--calling Hiroshima a military target.

I believe he dropped the bombs when he did to prevent Stalin from entering the war with Japan, and thereby end up sharing the Asian spoils with Russia. He likely wanted to show Stalin what big guns the US had as well.

If the atomic bombing of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki wasn't a war crime, then there's no such thing.

#3 John Simkin

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Posted 08 August 2007 - 09:51 PM

Oliver Kamm
Monday August 6, 2007
The Guardian


http://www.guardian....2142224,00.html

Today is Hiroshima day, the anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb. As the wartime generation passes on, our sense of gratitude is increasingly mixed with unease regarding one theatre of the second world war. There is a widespread conviction that, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, America committed acts that were not only terrible but also wrong.

Disarmament campaigners are not slow to advance further charges. Greenpeace maintains that a different American approach might have prevented the cold war, and argues that new research on the Hiroshima decision "should give us pause for thought about the wisdom of current US and UK nuclear weapons developments, strategies, operational policies and deployments".

This alternative history is devoid of merit. New historical research in fact lends powerful support to the traditionalist interpretation of the decision to drop the bomb. This conclusion may surprise Guardian readers. The so-called revisionist interpretation of the bomb made headway from the 1960s to the 1990s. It argued that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were less the concluding acts of the Pacific war than the opening acts of the cold war. Japan was already on the verge of surrender; the decision to drop the bomb was taken primarily to gain diplomatic advantage against the Soviet Union.
Yet there is no evidence that any American diplomat warned a Soviet counterpart in 1945-46 to watch out because America had the bomb. The decision to drop the bomb was founded on the conviction that a blockade and invasion of Japan would cause massive casualties. Estimates derived from intelligence about Japan's military deployments projected hundreds of thousands of American casualties.

Truman had to take account of this, and dropped the bomb for the reasons he said at the time. Contrary to popular myth, there is no documentary evidence that his military commanders advised him the bomb was unnecessary for Japan was about to surrender. As the historian Wilson Miscamble puts it, Truman "hoped that the bombs would end the war and secure peace with the fewest American casualties, and so they did. Surely he took the action any American president would have undertaken." Recent Japanese scholarship provides support for this position. Sadao Asada, of Doshisha University, Kyoto, has concluded from analysis of Japanese primary sources that the two bombs enabled the "peace party" within Japan's cabinet to prevail.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are often used as a shorthand term for war crimes. That is not how they were judged at the time. Our side did terrible things to avoid a more terrible outcome. The bomb was a deliverance for American troops, for prisoners and slave labourers, for those dying of hunger and maltreatment throughout the Japanese empire - and for Japan itself. One of Japan's highest wartime officials, Kido Koichi, later testified that in his view the August surrender prevented 20 million Japanese casualties. The destruction of two cities, and the suffering it caused for decades afterwards, cannot but temper our view of the Pacific war. Yet we can conclude with a high degree of probability that abjuring the bomb would have caused greater suffering still.

Commemoration of war is part of our civic culture, and campaigners against Trident and the US missile defence system have every right to state their case. But those things must not be confused. The campaigners must advance independent grounds for their policy views. Dubious historical claims are not a legitimate way to advance them.


Oliver Kamm is the author of Anti-Totalitarianism: the Left-Wing Case for a Neoconservative Foreign Policy


There were some good letters about this article today:

By 1942 the deliberate killing of civilians on a vast scale had become part of allied war strategy. Hitler and the Japanese leadership would have done the same or worse, had they been able. Whether that was criminal or not is a matter for the ill-defined laws of war. Whether it was morally defensible will always be debated. So what of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Terrible, but not a crime, August 6)?

Given the prevailing mood in 1945, the launching of the nuclear age on human targets was no huge departure. Had it really ended the war, as Oliver Kamm claims, there was a case for Hiroshima. Not for Nagasaki. The threat should then have sufficed. Kamm dismisses the substantial diplomatic evidence that Japan was already suing for peace. President Truman wanted to get in quickly to show the world that the two bombs - there were only two - really worked. It still seemed within accepted strategic policy and need not be seen as a shot across Soviet bows.
Here are just two witnesses who call Kamm's view into question. President Eisenhower later said: "Japan was at that very moment seeking some way to surrender with minimum loss of face. It was not necessary to hit them with that awful thing." And Field Marshal Montgomery said: "It was unnecessary to drop the two atomic bombs on Japan. The dropping of the bombs was [...] a prime example of the declining moral standards of the conduct of modern war."
Canon Paul Oestreicher
University of Sussex


By the summer of 1945 General Leslie Groves, who had been in charge of the American atomic bomb programme, headed what was in effect a new branch of the American armed services: a nuclear strike command with 15 aircraft and two atomic bombs. Groves saw it as his duty to have them dropped on two Japanese cities so that their future effectiveness as weapons could be judged. If that is not a war crime, then what is?
Phillip Knightley
London


Oliver Kamm conveniently forgets the 1944 Yalta Conference, which agreed that Stalin would bring his troops into the Pacific war theatre three months after the end of the war in Europe. May 8 1945 was VE Day. August 6, Russian troops were massing in Vladivostock ready to invade northern Japan on August 8. August 6, America dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima, effectively stopping any Soviet involvement in the post war carve-up of Japan. QED.
Jack Jones
Plymouth


Oliver Kamm recites the usual justification for Hiroshima and Nagasaki: the deaths of a few hundred thousand Japanese civilians prevented many more deaths that "with a high degree of probability" would have occurred if the US had invaded Japan's home islands. In an age when the key threat is terrorism - the deliberate targeting of civilians to achieve a political objective - this justification loses much of its appeal. One great challenge in eliminating terrorism is to convince those who have what they consider to be legitimate grievances that deliberately targeting civilians is never justified. The fact that, at the time, most people did not judge Hiroshima and Nagasaki to be war crimes should not prevent us from doing so now.
Bill Rubin
London


What we should be asking is what can we learn from 1945. The use of the atom bomb led to a costly arms race because the Soviet Union saw it as a threat. Today the threat of nuclear destruction is greater than ever, with nuclear proliferation driven by security fears. George Bush's aim of dominating the world through a massive investment in new nuclear weapons repeats failed projects. There is no alternative to diplomatic solutions to problems such as Iran and North Korea, or building disarmament treaties. Preparations to build a nuclear weapon at Aldermaston and to replace Trident, and the planned use of Menwith Hill as part of the US missile defence system, should all stop. The UK should undertake a major initiative to save the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and restart nuclear disarmament.
Bob Ball
Leicester


http://www.guardian....2143686,00.html

#4 John Simkin

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Posted 08 August 2007 - 09:51 PM

Oliver Kamm
Monday August 6, 2007
The Guardian


http://www.guardian....2142224,00.html

Today is Hiroshima day, the anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb. As the wartime generation passes on, our sense of gratitude is increasingly mixed with unease regarding one theatre of the second world war. There is a widespread conviction that, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, America committed acts that were not only terrible but also wrong.

Disarmament campaigners are not slow to advance further charges. Greenpeace maintains that a different American approach might have prevented the cold war, and argues that new research on the Hiroshima decision "should give us pause for thought about the wisdom of current US and UK nuclear weapons developments, strategies, operational policies and deployments".

This alternative history is devoid of merit. New historical research in fact lends powerful support to the traditionalist interpretation of the decision to drop the bomb. This conclusion may surprise Guardian readers. The so-called revisionist interpretation of the bomb made headway from the 1960s to the 1990s. It argued that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were less the concluding acts of the Pacific war than the opening acts of the cold war. Japan was already on the verge of surrender; the decision to drop the bomb was taken primarily to gain diplomatic advantage against the Soviet Union.
Yet there is no evidence that any American diplomat warned a Soviet counterpart in 1945-46 to watch out because America had the bomb. The decision to drop the bomb was founded on the conviction that a blockade and invasion of Japan would cause massive casualties. Estimates derived from intelligence about Japan's military deployments projected hundreds of thousands of American casualties.

Truman had to take account of this, and dropped the bomb for the reasons he said at the time. Contrary to popular myth, there is no documentary evidence that his military commanders advised him the bomb was unnecessary for Japan was about to surrender. As the historian Wilson Miscamble puts it, Truman "hoped that the bombs would end the war and secure peace with the fewest American casualties, and so they did. Surely he took the action any American president would have undertaken." Recent Japanese scholarship provides support for this position. Sadao Asada, of Doshisha University, Kyoto, has concluded from analysis of Japanese primary sources that the two bombs enabled the "peace party" within Japan's cabinet to prevail.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are often used as a shorthand term for war crimes. That is not how they were judged at the time. Our side did terrible things to avoid a more terrible outcome. The bomb was a deliverance for American troops, for prisoners and slave labourers, for those dying of hunger and maltreatment throughout the Japanese empire - and for Japan itself. One of Japan's highest wartime officials, Kido Koichi, later testified that in his view the August surrender prevented 20 million Japanese casualties. The destruction of two cities, and the suffering it caused for decades afterwards, cannot but temper our view of the Pacific war. Yet we can conclude with a high degree of probability that abjuring the bomb would have caused greater suffering still.

Commemoration of war is part of our civic culture, and campaigners against Trident and the US missile defence system have every right to state their case. But those things must not be confused. The campaigners must advance independent grounds for their policy views. Dubious historical claims are not a legitimate way to advance them.


Oliver Kamm is the author of Anti-Totalitarianism: the Left-Wing Case for a Neoconservative Foreign Policy


There were some good letters about this article today:

By 1942 the deliberate killing of civilians on a vast scale had become part of allied war strategy. Hitler and the Japanese leadership would have done the same or worse, had they been able. Whether that was criminal or not is a matter for the ill-defined laws of war. Whether it was morally defensible will always be debated. So what of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Terrible, but not a crime, August 6)?

Given the prevailing mood in 1945, the launching of the nuclear age on human targets was no huge departure. Had it really ended the war, as Oliver Kamm claims, there was a case for Hiroshima. Not for Nagasaki. The threat should then have sufficed. Kamm dismisses the substantial diplomatic evidence that Japan was already suing for peace. President Truman wanted to get in quickly to show the world that the two bombs - there were only two - really worked. It still seemed within accepted strategic policy and need not be seen as a shot across Soviet bows.
Here are just two witnesses who call Kamm's view into question. President Eisenhower later said: "Japan was at that very moment seeking some way to surrender with minimum loss of face. It was not necessary to hit them with that awful thing." And Field Marshal Montgomery said: "It was unnecessary to drop the two atomic bombs on Japan. The dropping of the bombs was [...] a prime example of the declining moral standards of the conduct of modern war."
Canon Paul Oestreicher
University of Sussex


By the summer of 1945 General Leslie Groves, who had been in charge of the American atomic bomb programme, headed what was in effect a new branch of the American armed services: a nuclear strike command with 15 aircraft and two atomic bombs. Groves saw it as his duty to have them dropped on two Japanese cities so that their future effectiveness as weapons could be judged. If that is not a war crime, then what is?
Phillip Knightley
London


Oliver Kamm conveniently forgets the 1944 Yalta Conference, which agreed that Stalin would bring his troops into the Pacific war theatre three months after the end of the war in Europe. May 8 1945 was VE Day. August 6, Russian troops were massing in Vladivostock ready to invade northern Japan on August 8. August 6, America dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima, effectively stopping any Soviet involvement in the post war carve-up of Japan. QED.
Jack Jones
Plymouth


Oliver Kamm recites the usual justification for Hiroshima and Nagasaki: the deaths of a few hundred thousand Japanese civilians prevented many more deaths that "with a high degree of probability" would have occurred if the US had invaded Japan's home islands. In an age when the key threat is terrorism - the deliberate targeting of civilians to achieve a political objective - this justification loses much of its appeal. One great challenge in eliminating terrorism is to convince those who have what they consider to be legitimate grievances that deliberately targeting civilians is never justified. The fact that, at the time, most people did not judge Hiroshima and Nagasaki to be war crimes should not prevent us from doing so now.
Bill Rubin
London


What we should be asking is what can we learn from 1945. The use of the atom bomb led to a costly arms race because the Soviet Union saw it as a threat. Today the threat of nuclear destruction is greater than ever, with nuclear proliferation driven by security fears. George Bush's aim of dominating the world through a massive investment in new nuclear weapons repeats failed projects. There is no alternative to diplomatic solutions to problems such as Iran and North Korea, or building disarmament treaties. Preparations to build a nuclear weapon at Aldermaston and to replace Trident, and the planned use of Menwith Hill as part of the US missile defence system, should all stop. The UK should undertake a major initiative to save the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and restart nuclear disarmament.
Bob Ball
Leicester


http://www.guardian....2143686,00.html

#5 David Richardson

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Posted 09 August 2007 - 05:35 AM

I noticed that Oliver Kamm, in his original article, neatly skimmed over the problem of the second bomb, on Nagasaki. If a case can be made for Hiroshima, it's very difficult to see what Nagasaki was apart from experimentation on live animals

#6 John Simkin

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Posted 24 September 2009 - 11:48 AM

I have updated my Hiroshima page that now includes a couple of good YouTube videos.

http://www.spartacus...WWhiroshima.htm




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